Thu December 9, 2010
The Two-Way

U.S. Is Gearing Up For Even Heavier Civilian Presence In Afghanistan

The U.S. may be planning for a large scale military withdrawal from Afghanistan by 2014, but there's every indication a significant diplomatic corps will remain in the country long afterwards.

The heavily fortified U.S .embassy in Kabul is undergoing a lightning-fast expansion in order to accomodate hundreds of American civilians arriving as part of the new counterinsurgency strategy.

Here's what U.S. ambassador, Karl Eikenberry, says about the expansion: "Late 2008, the United States embassy -- our mission here in Afghanistan -- comprised of about 320 civilians and a majority of those were in Kabul. Now, about two years later, we have 1,100 civilians, still increasing."

The idea is to create a military-civilian partnership -- after the military clears an area of insurgents, civilians go in to help build up the local government, justice systems, and other institutions.

The problem is, Americans involved in this effort are arriving so fast that they're hard pressed at the embassy to house them. A huge construction project is underway to build more offices and housing complexes. Until they're ready, small trailers have been moved onto the current embassy grounds. Each holds at least two people. Others are crammed into existing buildings.

The embassy is trying to move people out into the field, in various parts of the country, to get started on the projects. The effort has been fairly successful in the safer areas of the country.

But in many other parts of the Afghanistan, the civilians have to hunker down in compounds because of the unsafe conditions.

(NPR foreign affairs correspondent Jackie Northam was part of the team that worked on a series of stories about Afghanistan for this week's editions ofAll Things Considered. Part one — "For Invaders, A Well-Worn Path Out Of Afghanistan" — aired Monday. Part two, on the aftermath of the Soviets' withdrawal, was on Tuesday's show. Part three focused on Afghan President Hamid Karzai. More of Jackie's reporting is due on today's edition of ATC. Click here to find an NPR station that broadcasts or streams the show.) Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.